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Thursday 29 June 2017

Bennett dodges issue of PrEP & research funding

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By Daily News staff - 15th February 2017

Deputy PM Paula Bennett has dodged the issue of funding for core HIV attitudinal research and PrEP treatment, while saying the government is committed to the NZ AIDS Foundation's target of 'Ending HIV' transmissions by 2025.

Deputy PM Paula Bennett on stage at the Ending HIV Big Gay Out

Despite countries such as Australia funding yearly attitudinal research to monitor the underlying causes of new HIV infections, which in New Zealand are at their highest annual level amongst gay and bisexual men in thirty years, the Ministry of Health has not funded Auckland University's core GAPS/GOSS study for three years in a row. This has effectively blinded the NZAF as it tries to develop prevention strategies and monitor their results.

Asked if she felt that research and scientifically-based information are important for HIV prevention programmes Bennet said “as a party we support evidence-based [programmes], and to have that kind of evidence you have to have the research behind it so in a general context I would say yes.”

However, she said she did not have enough information to be able to say whether she felt the Ministry should be providing more regular funding for GAPPS and GOSS. “Its a bit hard for me to know the priorities and how they balance that, what I will say is that the campaign that they've got on ending HIV transmission in New Zealand, we really support that aspirational goal as a party. I think we now have to have that conversations as to how we achieve it.

As for PrEP, a personal health and HIV prevention technique where especially at-risk people without HIV can take medications to ward off contracting the virus, “we've funded Pharmac more, that would be a Pharmac decision as to whether they would fund that drug,” Bennett says. “I don't know exactly what they're looking at at the moment or what patents are on it but it certainly sounds like its worth a look but that would be an independent decision for Pharmac.” She noted that the Government has put "an extra $200 million" into Pharmac.

Regarding a growing perception in public health and HIV circles that the Government has taken its eye off the HIV epidemic just as gay and bisexual men are experiencing the highest level of annual rates of new HIV infections in thirty years, Bennett says “we certainly support the campaign that is coming out now as an aspirational goal and I think that the rubber hits the road when we start talking about what we need to achieve it, and we want to be part of that conversation."

Asked what the situation would be if The AIDS Foundation, whose funding has been capped for six years despite the increasing complexity of the HIV epidemic, says it need more money to achieve that goal Bennett parried that “that would be a decision for Government and not just me alone.”

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